Part IV: Elizabeth Keckley: A Tornado of Sorrow
Note: For Part I on Elizabeth Keckley, please visit my blog post at: http://bit.ly/FSNIt. For Part II, please visit: bit.ly/ENWjJ. For Part III, please visit: http://bit.ly/gI1H6
A Tornado of Sorrow
Just a few years after the death of young Willie Lincoln, at 11 o’clock at night, Elizabeth awoke to the news that Mr. Lincoln had been shot. In the confusion of the night, she finally learned that the President was dead. Her first thought was of Mrs. Lincoln.
“I wanted to go to Mrs. Lincoln, as I pictured her wild with grief; but then I did not know where to find her. . .”
Mrs. Lincoln was overcome. Mrs. Secretary Wells asked Mrs. Lincoln who could comfort her. “Is there no one, Mrs. Lincoln, that you desire to have with you in this terrible affliction?”
Mrs. Lincoln responded, “Yes, send for Elizabeth Keckley. I want her just as soon as she can be brought here.”
It’s Normal to Hurt
Bringing her in, Mrs. Wells excused herself and Elizabeth was left alone with Mrs. Lincoln. “She was nearly exhausted with grief, and when she became a little quiet, I asked and received permission to go into the Guests’ Room, where the body of the President lay in state.”
Returning to Mrs. Lincoln’s room, Elizabeth reports, “I found her in a paroxysm of grief. Robert was bending over his mother with tender affection, and little Tad was crouched at the foot of the bed with a world of agony in his young face. I shall never forget the scene—the wails of a broken heart, the unearthly shrieks, the terrible convulsions, the wild, tempestuous outbursts of grief from the soul.”
Shared Sorrow Is Endurable Sorrow
How did Elizabeth respond? “I bathed Mrs. Lincoln’s head with cold water, and soothed the terrible tornado as best I could. Tad’s grief at his father’s death was as great as the grief of his mother, but her terrible outbursts awed the boy into silence.”
In those days, of all people, a formerly enslaved black woman was the one human being on the face of the earth who could comfort the President’s widow. And how? With her empathy. With her silence. With her physical presence. With her loving companionship.
Mrs. Lincoln’s Spiritual Friend
“Every room in the White House was darkened, and every one spoke in subdued tones, and moved about with muffled tread. The very atmosphere breathed of the great sorrow which weighed heavily upon each heart. Mrs. Lincoln never left her room. . . She denied admittance to almost every one, and I was her only companion, except her children, in the days of her great sorrow.”
Mrs. Lincoln’s testimony says it all. “Lizabeth, you are my best and kindest friend, and I love you as my best friend.”
The Rest of the Story
For the rest of the story, please return to this blog for part five . . .
Note: Readers can enjoy the empowering narratives of over two-dozen African American women (and scores of African American men) narrated in Kellemen and Edwards, Beyond the Suffering. For more information, please visit: http://bit.ly/XvsTu